Having the students questioned instead by security personnel makes the university administration appear it is unwilling to talk with the students, says Mustafa K Anuar.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) has denied subjecting students who protested against a steep fee hike to a six-hour grilling.
UTM insists that the three representatives of the protesting students were each subject to almost two hours of questioning. That is certainly not the same as interrogating each one of them for six hours straight.
But the students concerned assert that they underwent non-stop interrogation for six hours, which, if true, is abominable.
If the university’s denial is verified, then the student group needs to get their act together so as to avoid making excessive claims. Their credibility is at stake, among other things, because making exaggerated claims is irresponsible.
The students should be aware of the repercussions arising from their allegation if it was true. If the grilling story is true, UTM would have earned the wrath of many concerned Malaysians and academics for having stooped so low as to punish its students in a degrading way.
Grilling students of the Malaysia-Japan International Institute of Technology, an academic and research wing of UTM, for long hours in the month of Ramadan and during exam season would be downright outrageous.
It would have painted UTM as an educational institution that is incapable of providing intellectual leadership when confronted with problems related to students, particularly those with an independent and inquiring mind.
If anything, treating students in a surreptitious and undemocratic manner and criminalising dissent at the same time is not exactly a clever way to avoid smudging your corporate image. After all, isn’t a university a place where dialogue, discussion and debate are supposed to be encouraged and celebrated?
It would also conjure up an image of a university administration that is still trapped in a time-warp, where students are seen to have no democratic right to express and demonstrate as able-thinking adults. In other words, UTM was exhibiting behaviour of a typical students’ affairs department of yore, when students are to be told and not to be heard.
The alleged threat by UTM to use the notorious Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) against the protesting students would depict the university as one that prefers coercion to dialogue.
To be sure, the high cost of education is a worrying factor particularly to students and their parents who, like many other Malaysians, are already saddled with a high cost of living in the country.
Which is why this matter should be brought to the table for discussion between the administration and students. Having the students questioned instead by security personnel makes the university administration appear unwilling to talk with the students.
Besides, this seemingly aloof approach towards students makes us mindful of the kind of corporate conduct that is inimical to the spirit of an era that is supposedly a new Malaysia, where freedom of expression and assembly is generally recognised by the authorities and other concerned Malaysians.
The concerned students and the university administration deserve to hear each other out in an effort to address the problem in a sober manner.